A Love Match or Simply Good Business?

Like anyone else, I have a lot of puzzles to work on in my family tree. One that had been nagging at me for some time was the precise blood relationship between a Joseph Beachcroft who married a Mary Beachcroft.

Mary’s father was Samuel Beachcroft, and in his will of 1732 he mentions his ‘son in law’ Joseph Beachcroft. But nowhere was there a Joseph of Mary’s generation in the immediate family. I have never found any baptisms for any of Samuel’s children, so I didn’t know how old Mary was in 1732, although her parents were married in 1701, which was a starting point and I knew she was under 21 in 1729 as her mother’s will states.

Meanwhile, there was a Joseph Beachcroft who was a first cousin of Mary’s father. On Joseph’s memorial inscription, there was a second wife called Mary Fuller mentioned. I had assumed Fuller to be her maiden name.

My spur to getting this sorted out finally as I searched back and forth on the internet, was the discovery of the marriage entry between a Joseph Beachcroft and Mary Beachcroft in Bermondsey in 1731. I had scoured the LMA collections on Ancestry for some time in relation to anything Beachcroft, but I hadn’t found this marriage before because it was indexed as Beackcroft.

The entry read; “Joseph Beachcroft of Battersea in the County of Surrey, Widower and Mary Beachcroft of Wandsworth, Licence first being obtained.”

This was intriguing.

It seemed to be Mary daughter of Samuel – they lived in Wandsworth. But why would she get married down the river away from friends and neighbours? Was this an entirely new couple, previously unknown to me, or was something else going on?

I needed to revisit everything and gather all the evidence to finally prove who Mary and Joseph were. I focused on the Joseph who was first cousin to Samuel. The son of a London Citizen and Haberdasher Joseph was christened 31 May 1678 at St Mary le Bow. He was apprenticed to his own father and became free of the Haberdashers in 1701 at the age of 23. He married Frances Pooley in 1705, aged 26, when she was aged around 20. No children seem to have been born to this couple and she died aged only 27 in 1711.

Between 1705 and 1721 he owned premises at Cheapside and traded as a Goldsmith. Although never a member of the Goldsmith’s company he was mentioned in their court minutes in 1705, 1707 and 1712 in connection with the selling of sub-standard goods and also in 1708 when he took on an apprentice of the Goldsmith’s company. Crucially, among the papers I had accumulated on Joseph there was evidence that he had indeed lived in York Place, Battersea in 1729, (not a very long walk away from Wandsworth). I had not put these two bits of geographical evidence together before and thought about how these first cousins Joseph and Samuel, lived so near to each other.

Finding the marriage bond or allegation would give the final corroborating information. Yet despite the London & Surrey Marriage Bonds and Allegations collection from the London Metropolitan Archives, being available on Ancestry, I could find nothing there. I later tracked it down in the Vicar General Marriage Allegations. This collection is at the Society of Genealogists (indexed at Findmypast just by surname), on microfilm, so I recently went to look at what the original said. It confirmed that Mary was just 19 and from Wandsworth, the daughter of Samuel. Therefore, as Joseph was 53 there was a 34 year age gap between them. In those days of shorter life-expectancy, Joseph must have seemed an old man to the young Mary.

Was this a love match or a simple piece of family ‘engineering’ cooked up by Samuel and Joseph in an arrangement going back years? A last ditch attempt by Joseph for a son before he died, and for Samuel to marry off his daughter to a rich cousin whom he liked or did business with?  Or did Joseph and Mary have genuine feelings for each other? What did Mary really feel about marrying a much older man, albeit a rich one? Unfortunately for Joseph there were to be no children, but his marriage to his young first cousin once-removed, lasted for 26 years until his death in 1757, age 79. Mary remarried in 1760, to a Mr Fuller, (hence the name on the memorial stone) but died herself just 18 months aged around 48.

I do so hope that Joseph was kind to his young bride, but I can’t help wondering what her life was really like.

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3 Responses to A Love Match or Simply Good Business?

  1. Gail Roger says:

    I often wonder uneasily how many of the couplings amongst my ancestors involved love. Historically, women haven’t had all that much say in with whom they had sex, and marriage itself has always been an economic contract. My example is my great-great-great-great grandmother Mary Snow, who had four husbands — including *two* of my great-great-great-great-grandfathers! (My great-great-great-grandparents were step-siblings — perfectly legal, as it turns out; they even had banns read!) I found all this out by tracking Mary’s marriages through parish records – all witnessed by various family members – and by her 1838 will, and the 1812 will of her third husband.

    I was a little floored by the responses I got when I shared this information with cousins researching the same family: “Wow, what a minx!” “She must have been terribly attractive to have had four husbands!” And similar comments.

    Really? She came from a reasonably comfortable family and the families into which she married also had a history of owning property, particularly houses in London. As a married woman, of course, she couldn’t own property, and as any kind of woman at the time, she was not a person in the eyes of the law. Looking at those four marriages, all witnessed by (mostly) male family members, I have to wonder how much say she had in the matter.

    I think we always run into trouble when we apply twenty-first suppositions about love and romance (or anything, for that matter) to people living in other centuries. I hope the husbands of both your Mary and mine were, as you say, kind.

    • jaygen2014 says:

      I agree … it’s so important to look at every piece of evidence and circumstance with an open mind and be non-judgemental. How many brick walls are self inflicted by making assumptions and sweeping judgments?

      I’ve cringed many a time watching WDYTYA when assumptions are made, usually by the celebrity, and nothing is done to correct their mistake by the researcher. Perhaps they’re not allowed to, but it’s a shame as viewers are given the impression that’s its perfectly okay to jump to conclusions and judge their ancestors on the flimsiest of evidence.

      It’s odd too how often the women are blamed, whilst the men are viewed as innocent. I was amazed when one celebrity, accused his ancestor, (who was a servant and slave), of seducing her master because she had given birth to a child – if that isn’t a biased viewpoint, and jumping to conclusions, then I don’t know what is.

      I also have someone in my own tree, whose descendants assumed he must have been a “lovable rogue”, until further evidence finally revealed his character, and the misery the women in his life must have endured. He had married an heiress who appears to have died childless. The children living with her on the night of the census were not hers (as had been assumed), but belonged to his mistress (there were at least two). This was early in the 19th century when, as you say women had few rights, and he presumably made full use of her property. How much say did she have in her own life? Very little I suspect…. but isn’t this why women decided to fight for the rights we take for granted today?

  2. I was a little taken aback by Gail’s comments, “Historically, women haven’t had all that much say in with whom they had sex, and marriage itself has always been an economic contract.” That is a pretty generalized conclusion to make about past generations. In looking at my ancestors I get the feeling they were mostly motivated by love. My 2nd great-grandmother appears to have followed her husband-to-be to Plymouth where he worked and where they were married. That must have taken a particular kind of devotion to do in the mid-19th century.
    I mentioned in my own blog post the story of two first cousins who married each other, my 4th great-grandparents (http://discovergenealogy.blogspot.ca/2016/02/i-only-have-126-sixth-great-grandparents.html). I noted, “You have to think, in a small parish like Cornwood they knew each other very well growing up, probably went to school together, attended church with their families together and generally socialized, so it was, in the end, just natural that an attraction would develop. John and Jane were married for 54 years until his death in 1845, living the entire time within a mile or so of where they had been born and very near most of their children and grandchildren. It must have been quite a love story.”
    Yes, there were legal restrictions on women right into the 20th century but surely one cannot believe that all marriages were just “economic contracts.” There is no reason to conclude that people did not have the same emotions and desires as more recent generations because they lived 200 years ago. I think you place too much emphasis on whether one of the partners had property and what happened to those assets, under the laws and traditions of the times, and too little regard for the normal interactions of people which, in my estimation and from my analysis of past records, were really no different than how people feel about each other today.

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